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Dear Deal Detective:
I am a single mother with a teenage daughter. I have never traveled much, but I would like to take her on a trip for her summer vacation. We would both love to see Europe, but I’m worried about the rising value of the euro compared to the dollar. I want to give her a great experience before she goes off to college, but I don’t want to remortgage my house just to afford the trip. We can fly out of any New York City airport. Can you help?
—Pam (and daughter Julie) B.
Dear Pam and Julie,
I usually advise my readers to avoid the high season for their destination and instead travel during the shoulder months, which offer the best combination of price, availability, weather, and crowd size. In the case of Europe, that’s generally the months of April, May, October, and November. One recent report suggested summer airfare alone could be as much three times higher than low-season prices. But I also recognize that sometimes the only time you can travel is during the high season, and that sounds like the case with your daughter’s vacation. Luckily for you, I like a challenge. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Since it’ll be the first time in Europe for both of you, you might enjoy the relative familiarity of London, which has all the attractions of a world-class European city and all the comforts that comes with an English-speaking population. Departing from JFK in early June, you and your daughter could fly round-trip to London and spend four nights at a budget-class hotel in the city for $1,230.88 each with go-today.com’s London Escape. For another $130 each, you can sign up for the Bath, Stonehenge & Salisbury tour. On your first trip to England, even the long bus ride is likely to be fun. (It was for me, anyway.)
One way to control your costs is by locking in a guaranteed rate in U.S. dollars, which shields you from the volatility of the dollar. Since you’ll be traveling with your daughter, you might want to consider a women-only tour from Gutsy Women Travel, which has a guaranteed-dollar-rate promotion going for all of its 2008 departures. Gutsy Women Travel is a little on the pricey side (most land-only packages start at more than $3,000 per person), but—as with all things Europe these days—you can save quite a bit by visiting the central and eastern parts of the Continent. The eight-day Beauty of Central Europe: Budapest & Prague trip costs $2,169 for a land-only August departure. An airfare-inclusive version of this same trip departing from New York goes for $3,259, which isn’t bad when you consider how expensive August flights are likely to get.
For about the same amount it would cost one of you to go on the land-only version of the Gutsy Women Travel trip, you and your daughter could both spend a week exploring France with EuropeASAP’s customizable France Fly & Drive package. I priced out a June trip that includes round-trip airfare from New York’s JFK airport, a seven-day car rental and insurance, unlimited mileage, and all taxes and fees. Total cost: $1,116.45 per person. Hotels and meals are not included in this price, but there are always ways to save on food and accommodations once you arrive. Not much can be done about the price of gas, unfortunately.
Letters of the Week
Last week, I printed this question from reader Maria Polla: “My husband and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this year. We would like to celebrate with our family by taking them on vacation. Our grandchildren range in age from three to 24. Can you suggest any destinations that would make everyone happy? We would consider the Mediterranean or Hawaii. Thank you!”
Fellow Deal Detective reader (and president of Chimera Travel) Maya McGee of Collingswood, New Jersey, had the following recommendations: “Hawaii is one of the best destinations for multigenerational family groups. Specifically, the Big Island (Hawaii) is probably the most family-friendly of the islands. It offers a great combination of activities, natural beauty, and opportunities for relaxation. For a larger group, villa or vacation home rentals are a wonderful option and often much more affordable since one villa can sleep a greater number of people than the standard hotel room. The villas often include pools and access to activities that appeal to virtually all age ranges. If Maria and her family are considering the Mediterranean, I suggest a villa in Italy. Tuscany, for instance, offers beautiful villas in the Italian countryside at a relatively reasonable price. From their Tuscan villa, they could do day trips into Florence, Siena, Bologna, and Rome, visit the markets, take a cooking class, and visit wine regions such as Montepulciano and Chianti (for those of age). There are so many wonderful options and cultural experiences that would certainly make it an unforgettable 50th anniversary celebration!”
Gretchen Benolken also suggested a villa, but took another approach: “I recommend looking into renting a villa in St. Thomas. There are some villas that sleep up to 20 or more individuals, and some have neighboring villas. There are things to do for the very young, such as Coral World—kind of an inverted aquarium where the people go down and look out at the marine life in its natural setting through glass—to snorkeling, scuba diving, great beaches such as Megan’s Bay and Sapphire Beach. There’s also shopping, and a trip to the Baths is unforgettable. It is also possible to take a submarine ride, which kids of all ages might enjoy. Also, it’s a short ferry ride to St. John for exploring more great beaches, shopping, and restaurants. Just a thought!”
Thanks to both of you!
Become a Deal Detective
And now it’s your chance to become a Deal Detective, too. Below is one of the questions from the past week that I wasn’t able to research for this week’s column. Can you help? Email me your suggestions for these readers and I’ll publish the most helpful ones in an upcoming column. You will, of course, get full credit for your efforts.
Stephanie C. writes, “I have really enjoyed reading the advice of you and your readers about Disney travel. I hate to belabor the topic, however my husband and I are planning a trip in early December. We are having a difficult time creating a trip on a budget for just the two of us. It seems as though all of the “deals” are geared toward family travel. I understand that Disney is a wonderful place to bring your kids, but it would be great for us adult Disney lovers to hear some advice from other adult veterans who know the ropes of travel without the family. Thanks in advance.”
Can you help? Note that I’ll print your full name unless you ask me not to. And of course I’ll never share your email address with anyone.
Have a question for the Deal Detective? Please send your request using the “Submit your own comment” box below. Be aware that due to the volume of requests I receive, I cannot personally respond to every email. The more compelling your question, the better the chance you’ll be selected for an upcoming case.
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